Summary: Jesus associated with sinners because their repentance brings great joy to heaven. The parables’ drama is built on the tension of an attempt to find what is lost. If the lost were important to Jesus, they should be important to His disciples.
LUKE 15: 1-10 [PARABLES IN LUKE]
SEEKING SINNERS [Jesus, Friend of Sinners]
Why seek sinners? Chapter 15 contains three linked parables that explain why Jesus associates with sinners. Jesus associated with sinners who recognized their need of salvation and because their repentance brings great joy to heaven (CIT). Jesus introduces the importance of sinners in the Parables of the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin. The parables’ drama is built on the tension of an attempt to find something that has been lost. If the lost were important to Jesus, they should be important to His disciples.
Do you remember your first time you were lost as a child? Perhaps you’ve been hopelessly lost as an adult. I have. On one occasion I was lost during a snow storm on a ranch in the breaks of Kansas while surveying for an oil exploration company. Another time I was lost in the Amazon River Basin while doing missionary work. Most of us have lived through those traumatic experiences of being lost and being found.
Anyone who has lost anything or loses anything on a regular basis can also identify with the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin. In our house it is keys, the TV remote control, and my glasses that most often go AWOL. At such times an all-points bulletin sends us on a hunt for what their absent-minded father has misplaced. When it is found, all are relieved.
It is in terms of being lost and being found that Jesus talks about heaven or the kingdom of God. It is the best explanation Jesus can give us to help us understand something of what coming into the kingdom is. We must admit we are lost and in need of repentance in order to be found (CIT). Great rejoicing occurs in Heaven over each and every sinner who repents and turns to Jesus.
I. Jesus Associates with THOSE WHO LISTEN, 15:1-2.
II. THE SEARCH FOR A LOST SHEEP, 15:3-7.
III. THE JOY OF HEAVEN, 15:8-10.
Verse 1 begins to establish the context for the parables by noting who was there and who was listening to Jesus. “Now all the tax collectors and the sinners were coming near Him to listen to Him.”
Jesus tells these parables to the religious as well as tax collectors and sinners. These stories offer comfort, especially in the face of the Pharisees and scribes' grumbling that Jesus welcomes sinners and eats with them (5:30, 37; 7:34, 39). The fact that tax collectors and sinners “listen” to Jesus while the leadership does not is why Jesus would associate with them rather than associating with those whom cultural norms mandated. Sometimes hearers are found in surprising places. The issue of listening to Jesus is a major one in Luke mentioned at least 17 times (5:1,15; 6:17, 27, 47, 49; 7:29; 8:8-18, 21; 9:35; 10:16, 24,39; 11:28,31). To experience God's blessing, we need to listen to Him.
Verse 2 contrasts the religious folks understanding or chiding with that of the listening sinners. “Both the Pharisees and the scribes began to grumble, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”
The religious folks regularly criticized Jesus. They here question His associations. Didn’t He who knew so much know what kind of people they were? Didn’t He know their reputation? He needed to get away from them before they brought Him to ruined. But to the disgust of the religious leaders, Jesus associated with those who were thought of as hopeless and “sinners.”
Jesus is going to tell a story to let them and us know how out of harmony with heaven the self-righteous attitudes are. [One of my mentors, Bob Anderson, advised me not to place value on the opinion of those who do not value the Word. Jesus certainty didn’t.]
II. THE SEARCH FOR A LOST SHEEP, 15:3-7.
In response to the charge that Jesus receives sinners He tells the parable(s) that follow beginning in verses 3 & 4. “So He told them this parable, saying,  “What man among you, if he has a hundred sheep and has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open pasture and go after the one which is lost until he finds it?
Jesus wants to illustrate that sinners are the object of divine seeking because they are lost and in need of repentance. He begins with a pastoral scene that would have been familiar in Palestine. A shepherd had a hundred sheep [fair sized flock]. Such flocks were an economic resource, since they provided wool and mutton. During the count as he gathers the sheep at day's end, the shepherd notices that one is missing. Love for the lost sheep is so strong that the ninety-nine are left while the search is on. The sheep needs to be found; otherwise it may be permanently lost or attacked by hungry predators. It is risky to be a lost sheep, or a sheep without a shepherd. [Bock, Darrell. The IVP NT Com. Luke. InterVarsity Press, Dover Grove, IL. p.257.]